Encounters with a wonderful tapestry

About a dozen years ago we enjoyed a visit from the international sales manager of a Belgian tapestry weaving company. He and his wife stayed overnight. That summer evening I walked into our workroom where he had left a new sample tapestry called The Promenade lying on a table. The sun had turned to a soft orangey, pinky hue and its gentle light brought this tapestry delightfully to life.

The tapestry was one I happened to enjoy enormously; it’s still one of my favourites:

The Promenade tapestry - La tenture de la Vie Seigneuriale tapestriesA couple of years later we were in Paris for a few days where, naturally, we had to visit the Cluny Museum. The Musee National du Moyen Age is unquestionably the world’s leading museum of medieval art; a wonderful place. The highlight was seeing the Lady with the Unicorn tapestries in their own round room. The word awesome can be truly used to express this exhibit. People were in a state of reverence and awe.

As expected there were many other magnificent tapestries like the Vendange grape harvesting tapestry. In one room we encountered a very pleasing surprise.

Cluny Museum tapestries - The Manorial Life

On the left is the tapestry we call The Promenade (I’m not sure why the weaver chose this name). It is one of six tapestries in the series called La tenture de la Vie Seigneuriale, The Manorial Life. I was immediately struck by the fact that the newly woven tapestry available today is an excellent reproduction of the original I was viewing. Over the centuries this tapestry had faded only insignificantly but some of the blue, dyed with woad, varied in intensity. Today’s Belgian weaver has done a magnificent recreation of this effect.

Incidentally, the widespread use of woad for dyeing was threatened at the end of the 15th century (about the time La tenture de la Vie Seigneuriale tapestries were woven) by imports of indigo after sea routes were established to Africa. Woad merchants and dyers persuaded governments in France, Germany and England to ban indigo imports. In France, the death penalty applied to trangressors!

Matters are much simpler today and The Promenade is available to us readily in several sizes. The weaver also produces two smaller details showing figures on the left – my wife and I have one of these hanging in our sitting room.

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